Editorial & Opinion

Filipino kids ‘not allowed to be themselves’

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Textbook history tells us that Jose Rizal was shot in the back on the field of Bagumbayan (New Land) in the cool morning of Dec. 30, 1896. What would have happened to him, to us, to the nascent nation he dreamed about, if he were not executed? Would he have been involved in the Malolos Republic and in the Philippine-American War, or would he have accepted a position in the American colonial bureaucracy in the Philippines?

All these questions make for daydreams to while away the time I waste in traffic. Teodoro Agoncillo once told me that it was useless to consider the what-ifs in history because we don’t even have the time to consider what actually happened.

Dropping in at a 7-Eleven convenience store to make “pagpag” after visiting a wake one evening, I was reminded that Rizal was the seventh of 11 children born to Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso. There were two boys and nine girls in the family home in Calamba, and of the 10 children who survived to adulthood, two daughters and the two sons never married, although Paciano Rizal had a daughter. At certain points in time, Rizal seriously considered marriage to three of his 12 known girlfriends, but he remained a childless bachelor to his death. If he had not been executed in 1896, I presume he would have taken care of his aging parents and overseen the education of his many nephews and nieces.

Rizal’s sisters were quite productive, as can be seen in a letter from Teodora Alonso to Rizal on Nov. 23, 1883:

“Now I’m going to mention to you, one by one, my new debts to the Lord. On June 6, 1882, Lucía delivered a baby boy who was named José. On 15 September 1882, Neneng gave birth to a boy who was named Alfredo. On 14 June 1883, Sisa gave birth to a girl who was given the name María Consolación; on 3 September 1883, Olimpia gave birth to a boy who was named Aristeo; on 24 November 1883, Lucía gave birth to a girl. On the 26 of this month Neneng gave birth to a girl also.  Both girls are not yet baptized but they will be on Sunday. Here many die of childbirth but they went through it safely.”

It is not well-known that Rizal’s first patient when he returned to the Philippines in 1887 was his sister Olimpia, the most beautiful of his sisters, who was with child. Rizal attended to her, eventually resulting in the death of both mother and child. Of course, this was not intentional, and is never recorded in our textbooks. Narcisa, one of Rizal’s favorite sisters whose nickname “Sisa” was immortalized in “Noli Me Tangere,” wrote him on Feb. 27, 1886, to say:

“I suppose you don’t know yet that I’m now the mother of six children. In this letter you will see the names of the three older ones written by themselves, and of the last ones, the older was Isabel, the deceased one, and the two, one girl and one boy, are called Consolación and Leoncio López, who is as fat as a melon. The children of Sra. Neneng are three: They are called Alfredo, Adela and Abelardo. Olimpia’s shortly will be three, like Sra. Neneng’s. The two who are not here are called Aristeo and Cesario; the older one called Aristeo, what a lively boy he is! His godfather is Sr. Paciano. He will be a useful boy when he gets older. At the age of 2, he already knows a great deal. He is the only consolation of our parents, I tell you, because when you see this child, even if you are angry, you will be obliged to laugh, he is so funny.”

One can only imagine what joy Rizal, homesick in Europe, got from snail mail. Neneng, for example, described Alfredo Porfirio, or “Freding,” in a letter dated Dec. 14, 1882, as having: “a well-shaped body, is stout, round-faced, having a sharp nose, small chin and eyes, flat head, bald on the left side.” Lucia Herbosa, in a letter of Nov. 13, 1882, described a son born to her in 1882, named Jose: “I amuse myself with Jose’s ear, which is like yours. I tell you that it is really like yours, but I pray that the likeness does not stop there, but that he may have your disposition, your goodness, and diligence in good works.”

Paciano was so concerned about the education of his nephews that he wrote Rizal on July 18, 1886:

“Furnish me with information of the best schools there. We have many nephews, most of them promising. It is a pity that these ones should fall into the hands of teachers who teach unwillingly and do so only for show. It is true that they inculcate in children the very same principles, such as fear and humility, the first being the beginning of wisdom and the second of apostolic and civic virtue, but it is also true that fear and humility lead to dullness.”

Mixing religion with education did not sit well with Rizal, who noted that unlike in Europe, children in the Philippines “are not allowed to be themselves, to make noise or to play. Instead they are made to recite the rosary and novena until the poor youngsters become very sleepy and understand nothing of what is going on. Consequently, when they reach the age of reason, they pray just as they have prayed when they were children, without understanding what they are saying; they fall asleep or think of nonsense. Nothing can destroy a thing more than the abuse of it, and praying can also be abused.”

If Rizal were not executed in 1896, he probably would have been a very progressive schoolmaster, opening a “Colegio Moderno” to mold and train the youth he called “the fair hope of the motherland.” Inquirer.net

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